Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lectures of Prof. Win : In Response to Burma Digest - Part 2

Mon, 2008-12-01 02:29
Part -2

(Asian Tribune) - This is the gist of lectures given to the various universities and locations in North America and Europe. These lectures are published in response to the request of Dr Tay Za of Burma Digest, whose publication is considered is one of the most balanced reporting for the ethno democratic publications. Only relevant and intelligent questions are inserted. The lectures and all answers are Prof. BT Win’s (Kanbawza Win) personal omissions and commissions and did not represent any university, organizations or movements.

This is the gist of the history of Myanmar and the non Myanmar and now the floor is open. Ask any questions regarding Burma and if I don’t know how to answer I just say I don’t know.

Q. What are the psychology and the function of the Burmese Military Regime?

General Than Shwe considers himself to be the modern embodiment of Burma’s ancient warrior kings and, to a certain extent, he models his deeply authoritarian rule on royal tradition. Like the ancient royalty, the power of the Junta relies not on popular support, but on popular fear and servitude, using the Buddhist Sangha (organization of monks) to legitimize itself with the people. Burmese armed forces, traces its roots to the anti-colonialist nationalistic Burmese army, formed originally by General Aung San, and it still harbours all the fervour it once had against foreign control, meddling, and influence inside the country. The military leaders are discomfited by the structures of government inherited from the colonial masters and have indoctrinated their ranks in the belief that Burmese are not culturally suited to Western style democracy and need to be ruled with a firm hand in order to avoid national disintegration. The decision to move the seat of government from Rangoon to Naypyidaw is an apt illustration of these historical characteristics in the military leadership:

First, it represents a return to the practice of the ancient kings who would build lavish new capitals to consolidate their respective reigns;

Second, it can be seen as an effort to expunge the final vestiges of the colonial period by abandoning the capital established by the British, which is still dominated by the old colonial buildings; and

Third, the regime perceived it as a strategic move to the center of the country from where the military would be well placed to control potential insurgencies.

The current Junta is more or less the natural outgrowth of Ne Win’s Socialist dictatorship, maintaining and even tightening military control over the country and clinging to the centralized command economy. Undoubtedly viewing the events of 1988 as the result of deficiencies in Ne Win’s administration, they made a series of adjustments over the years to avoid a repeat of these events. There were, for example, adjustments in economic management to allow a small sector of free market activity and attract foreignm investment, to bring more commodities and natural resources under the direct control of the military (at least in part to improve the military’s revenue stream), and to regulate more carefully the supply of essential commodities in urban areas to avoid disruptions that might trigger riots. There were also adjustments to the educational system to reduce the potential for student movements and protests by scattering the universities and abolishing dormitories. Ne Win’s personal rule was replaced by a committee structure dominated eventually by three senior figures, Generals Than Shwe, Maung Aye, and Khin Nyunt. With the removal of General Khin Nyunt from the triumvirate in 2004, however, the Junta seems to have reverted to the pattern of personal whimsy that characterized Ne Win’s regime, with General Than Shwe now providing the dominant personality.

The twelve members of the Junta team today are all military officers holding the most senior responsibilities in the army hierarchy. Cabinet ministers are also, with only two exceptions, military officers with little or no background in governance. The Junta does not meet on its own as a body, but joins the once monthly cabinet meetings and the thrice yearly meetings of all senior cabinet and military officials at which broad policy and strategic issues, including military activity, are decided. The Vice Senior General Maung Aye chairs the Trade Policy Committee, which meets once a week and rules on all decisions, both general and detailed, affecting external and internal economic regulations. Senior General Than Shwe chairs the Special Project Implementation Committee and the Special Border Projects Committee, which approve all decisions on major economic undertakings, such as resource concessions (mining, forestry, etc.), infrastructure construction (bridges, dams, irrigation, etc.) energy projects, and Agricultural policy. Than Shwe’s committees are more consequential than Maung Aye’s committee, although together they make all major economic decisions and are responsible for the irrational and seemingly haphazard quality of the government’s approach to economic policy. The generals, especially Than Shwe, do not ask for Advice and those beneath them do not dare to give it. Facts are routinely constructed to meet perceptions of what the generals want to do or believe about the economy.

Unpleasant facts are scrupulously avoided. Those at the top framing the issues and making the decisions has little to no expertise in economic management and lack long term vision. Their main concern is simply to make it through another day without any serious challenge to their absolute rule. In the end, however, the inner workings of the Burmese military hierarchy are largely inscrutable, even to those inside the regime. The internal dynamics of the armed forces are deliberately hidden and the essential decisions are made at the top with little involvement of people at lower levels. Ultimately, the absolute power of the Junta may be more a matter of appearance than of reality.

Q. What is your perspective on the Burmese Generals?

Burma is ruled by a strongly nationalistic, xenophobic, military junta, whose understanding of what is best for its people is widely different. The Burmese army view is that the policies of the West are directed towards neo-colonial domination of Burma. This justifies their continued hold on power. From the army perspective is that in a battle there are only two aspects, the victors and the defeat and they are the victors, somewhat similar to Michiaville theory of "the end justifies the means." They will do anything that might threaten "national security", no matter how unpopular it is with the international community.

Q. What about the policy of Narcotics Drugs?

The smaller states like Burma and North Korea—use their weaknesses and problems of drugs and trafficking of women and so forth, as a tool of national power. They use this tool to divide larger neighbors, to create leverage upon their neighbors to deal with these problems. It is, in my view, a deliberate aspect of strategy for Burma and North Korea.

Q. We often hear of 8888 generation. What is your opinion?

I myself belong to that category because I came out openly in 88. Most of the able leaders like Min Ko Naing and the likes inside Burma are under lock and key for the moment and cannot do much even though the spirit of 88 still lives on. As for the Burmese Diaspora most of them have become internet warriors intend on using the media highlight as an outlet, what in Burmese called megaphone diplomacy. It is good that some of them have become weekend politicians as in weekend they would gather at some place and change hot air. Of course most, if not all of them are 4 Bs (for Burma), but in Burmese we jokingly label as Bae Htaing, Baing Kya, Bu Pyaw, Ba Hma Ma Loke Bu meaning sit aside, no money, argumentative and will do nothing. Most of these associations needed actions, humanitarian or otherwise.

A couple of the de facto leaders have betrayed and even some of them went back to Burma or visited Burma with the blessing of the Junta, e.g. Crooked Master Zs (whose name start with Z). Most of the generations of 8888’s mentality is far from the workings of democracy as the disintegration of the ABSDF indicates and partly is not their fault, but rather that of the Burmese regimes because they are brought up under the Burmese Way to Socialism of the Ne Win regime and the majority of them still needs to educate themselves about democracy and change their mentality.

Q. Why did the capital move from Rangoon?

In typically Burmese fashion, there has been no satisfactory explanation for the sudden move to Naypyidaw. Although government spokesmen have suggested that it was a strategic necessity to place the seat of government in the center of the country, where it could relate more closely to the various ethnic minorities and ensure stability, few have accepted this as the real reason. Many believe it was inspired more by the irrational fears and ambitions of Senior General Than Shwe, who is believed by some Burmese observers to be increasingly detached from reality as he ages. As said earlier Than Shwe has made no secret that he equates himself with the ancient Burmese warrior kings and feels a responsibility to restore the glories of Burma’s royal traditions that were abolished by British colonialists. Among other things, it was customary for Burmese kings to consolidate their regimes by building elaborate new capitals to leave their own unique imprint on history. Similarly, there is no doubt among Burmese that the move to Naypyidaw, especially its surprise timing, was conditioned heavily by the leadership’s interpretation of advice from the ever-present astrologers and soothsayers. The emerging outlines of the new capital suggest strongly that the move was inspired fundamentally by a perceived need within the military leadership to remove the final vestiges of colonialism represented by the capital of Rangoon, to return to a bygone era when kings ruled the realm from grand strongholds in the center of the country, to fortify the government against unwanted foreign influence, and to consolidate a firm ethnic Burman cultural and political dominance in preparation perhaps for the return of some form of parliamentary government.

Whatever its motivation, the capricious move has been a very expensive decision for the government, because in addition to building infrastructure, it has had to offer incentives to military and government officials to buy their acquiescence. In April, 2006, for example, the salaries of all military and civil service employees were increased by a multiplier of between five and twelve, depending on rank and position. In addition to grand residences in Naypyidaw, senior officials have been given new houses in Rangoon for their families to offset the inability or unwillingness of families to accompany government employees to the new city. Many commodities and resources have been diverted from Rangoon to Naypyidaw, creating significant market disruptions and a new wave of inflation in Rangoon, which is home to more than ten percent of the country’s population. As might be expected, the sudden salary increase for government employees propelled the inflationary wave to new heights. As with previous government salary increases, the government simply printed more money to finance it.

Q. Prof Win, you yourself is an exile Burmese, and earlier you have said that there are 3 to 5 million Burmese in exiles. Can you tell us about the exile resources.

After so many years of harsh conditions in Burma, the Burmese Diaspora has become rather extensive. Some left during the Ne Win years; many more left after 1988 because of political persecution if not economic strigency.. The former group of Burmese expatriates tends to be engaged in professional pursuits in Western countries. The latter group includes a large number of political activists, who have remained focused on overthrowing the military regime and bringing about transition to democracy in Burma.

With the assistance and encouragement of US and European foundations and governments, some of these activists have also formed specialized groups that study various aspects of Burma’s institutional structures, articulating and planning the necessary reforms. For example, some look at economic reforms, some at legal reforms, and others at free press and political debate. When the opportunity for serious transition presents itself, these groups will be extremely helpful, not only as sources of ideas and advice for Burmese, but also as bridges between foreign donors and local Burmese institutions and society. Among them, they have amassed considerable experience with democracy in practice and a
large body of information on the institutions of democracy worldwide.36 It will be important for the international community to assist in engaging them systematically and productively in transition activities.

Among the Burmese expatriates who came out earlier and settled into professions abroad, there will also be many who wish to assist in the country’s transition to democracy. Some are already engaged to a limited extent in some business endeavours in Burma and are able to come and go regularly. This may be another resource for foreign assistance to transition when the time comes.

Q. What do you think of Sanctions?

Some people construe that the U.S. objectives as simply being the isolation of the regime and sanctions. The sanctions are a means to an end, not an end in them. E.g. North Korea does not respond to pressure, but North Korea does not respond without Pressure." I think the same can be said in the case of Burma, that sanctions are a necessary but not sufficient element of a policy. The sanctions policy has not led to the result the Western governments seek. This is not because they are the wrong tool, but by themselves they are an insufficient tool. They are insufficient because there has been too much cacophony and disagreement among the parties around the periphery of Burma.

Q. What is your opinion on Isolation and Sanctions?

The proponents of isolation (both governments and advocacy NGOs) would also argue that the aims of isolation have changed: the objective is no longer to try to bring the government to collapse, but to maintain a high level of pressure, so that the consequences of failing to reform are high. This is a laudable aim, but it cannot work long term, as the Junta can find other ways of securing the benefits that might otherwise accrue from the West, or decides it can do without them. Both these things are already happening in Burma, with the Burmese army relying increasingly on China, and at the same time turning inwards on it to promote a new form of the isolationist BSPP era where self reliance is the key to sustainable growth.

There is however signs that a second rethink of Burma policy has begun. With the developments in international diplomacy and intervention in East Timor, following so soon after that in Kosovo, it was hoped that concepts such as "preventive diplomacy" and "conflict resolution" would finally be combined with political will to intervene before a crisis gets out of hand. The first review of Burma policy took place in 1993/4 when America, the EU and Australia each developed their own versions of benchmarks (critical dialogue or roadmaps) in progress in human rights and democratic reform. But there was no success. EU, Australia and Canada are perhaps not so much a policy as a set of possible initiatives aimed at strengthening civil society. If any of these new ideas are to have some success, they must, as long-time Burma watcher David Steinberg put it, be “a way to deal with Burma that involves neither confrontation nor appeasement, but rather engagement with a big stick. An iron hand with a velvet glove approach should be adopted. Engagement along this line might is one of the possible way to wrench Burma out of its political and economic morass, short of intervention.

Q. What is your opinion on the regional approaches to Burma?

The regional powers on the Burma issue have various idiosyncrasies and different Soft spots that the Burmese Military Government is very effective at hitting at. ASEAN, in with its Constructive Engagement Policy is simply paralysis and quite frustrated except that it manage to exploit the natural and human resources of Burma. The Junta has managed to swindle all of the ASEAN countries. The blocking phrase being that noninterference in internal affairs principle that was so central to ASEAN that no one is willing to criticize and interfere in Burma’s internal affairs. So much so that Burma has become as a threat to ASEAN security and integration. While ASEAN as a whole doesn’t agree with Security Council attention, I think that there is a growing frustration.

India, which also champions democratic principles under, has a very realpolitik look at Burma, sees the energy needs, sees a road to Southeast Asia, and is very conscious of competition with China for influence. China is seeking influence but also has problems with Burma. The governor of Yunnan is not too pleased about trafficking and drugs and infectious diseases creating problems for his province. So China also has something of a mixed view. Obviously China does not want to have a vibrant democracy at has back yard when she himself is a communist dictatorship.

Japan also approaches Burma with certain idiosyncrasies. On the one hand, Japan is extremely sensitive to Chinese influence, particularly since the mid- 1990s, and is seeking not to allow China’s influence to grow at the expense of Japan in Burma. On the other hand, Japan is increasingly promoting norms of democracy and good governance. There seems to have is a conflict in Japan’s approaching the Burmese problem. I construe that there is shifting ground in Japan’s approach with certain difficulties.

Regarding this I like to repeat the story which I have read. Once in a hilly and forest clad country there were a lot of tigers and every body feared them. One day somebody brought a donkey to that region and it was kicking and braying, the tigers have never seen a creature that kicks and brayed and so they were quite upset and stay quite a distance. They tried to talk to the Donkey not to bray or kick but it would not listen and kick more and brayed some more. After some time one of the tigers said, why after all we are tigers so let us kill the Donkey and eat him and so they did. So also will be the case of Burma.

Now China, Japan, India and ASEAN are all tigers by their right. Once they agree among themselves and have their idiosyncrasies level out (each country has its own particular idiosyncrasies in their approaches to Burma that divided them and Burma exploited the situation), there will be peace in Burma or the country will be disintegrated with the ethnic groups joining the nearest country of their choice.

I’m not proposing that the U.S., Japan, India and China eat up Burma. The point is that when the weakest state uses its weakness as a national tool to divide the rest of the neighboring countries, the leaders of these neighboring countries should be thinking about what common approach they can take to make progress A United Front? If the neighboring countries should speak in unison with the right mix of sticks and carrots a package deal and demand the Burmese men in uniforms the unconditional release of the Burmese Nobel Laureate and ethnic leaders in a transparent, clear process with benchmarks for national reconciliation and a restoration of constitutional democracy. I think the Burmese tragedy which is a thorn in the world forum should be ended.

Q. Is Burma a real threat to the region?

This is also another difficult question as it depends on the perspective of the individual or country. If one were to ask China, India, Bangladesh, Thailand and ASEAN countries of whether they feel threatened by Burma you would get a sound "No" for an answer. In fact Burma is like a beautiful damsel woo by all the suitors like China, India, Japan Thailand and ASEAN countries and compete for Burma’s favors, the Generals know about it.

The real threat is the export of Narcotics, Aids and other diseases, flow of refugees and illegal immigrants as outline in the paper submitted to the UN by Desmond Tu Tu and Harvel.

Burma was and is not a question of peace and security that should have been debated in the Security Council. After both the United States and Europe have isolated themselves from Burma and deprived themselves of the chances to influence developments there, the debate in the Security Council was an act of frustration because these powers had no other way of "getting" at Burma. China is the only power that can put pressure on Burma and obviously she won’t share this trump card to the West particularly to the Americans and being a dictatorial regime itself does not like a democratic regime behind its back door. The Geo strategic options are very high on the Chinese’s agenda

Q. What is your opinion on the neighbouring countries of Burma?

India have become the greatest facilitators for the Junta, providing financial resources and military assistance in return for access to Burma’s natural resources. They are now engaged in avid competition for Burma’s large off-shore natural gas reserves in the Bay of Bengal, promising billions of dollars of revenue to the government in years to come. While it is quite natural that the world’s two most populous and rapidly developing countries, who straddle a small neighbour relatively rich in natural resources, should see their relations with Burma in strategic terms, it is not wise for them to disregard the country’s future welfare and stability. The kind of economic investment, loans, and assistance they are providing Burma today do not contribute much to the country’s economic development.

Chinese and Indian investments are most likely to be diverted to the generals and their families or to be used to finance hard-currency imports at the expense of domestic economic development.

In fact both India and China should be giving the Burmese Generals a strong message about the importance of restructuring the economy to expand the business sector and they should be managing their own economic relations with Burma to reinforce this message.

For example Japan – through patience and persistence was able to make considerable progress with the Burmese government in outlining a program for phased macro-economic reform. India, the world’s largest democracy, never send a message of the need for political transition. It is perhaps an encouraging sign that China’s Ambassador to the UN, even though he vetoed the proposed UNSC resolution urging democratic transition in Burma, regretted that he had to do so, because "it was clear Myanmar was not moving quickly enough to promote stability. He urged the military regime to move toward ‘inclusive democracy’ and ‘speed up the process of dialogue and reform.

Since accepting Burma into its midst, ASEAN has suffered a heavy political cost in its relations with these two large partners US and EU, ASEAN governments have been dismayed by the sheer intransigence of the Generals. In recent years, the rise of parliamentary consultative groups within ASEAN has translated into strong pressure on ASEAN governments by elected officials to speak out against the Junta’s harsh repression of Burma’s democratic forces and its refusal to move forward seriously with its own plan for political transition.

Although some ASEAN voices have raised the question of expelling Burma from the organization, this is probably not a practical course, because it would eliminate an important channel of communication and coordination with the seriously xenophobic Burmese leadership. It is also vitally important for ASEAN to remain a source of political pressure on Burma. The Junta and its successors will continue to value membership in ASEAN as a collective means of dealing with China and other large countries, and therefore will have to pay some heed to ASEAN’s concerns about how Burma’s actions affect the welfare of the collective organization.

Q. What is your analysis of the international community towards Burma?

I might as well says that I am a child of 1988 even though I belong to the generation of 7-7-62 when for the first time in my life I saw the soldiers shooting point blank on the peaceful students. Since 1988 the international community had undergone incredible changes. In 1989, with the fall of the Berlin wall and the break-up of the Soviet Union, a new international era – the New World Order – was heralded. The days when internal abuses of human rights by governments against their own people would be ignored if the country concerned were fighting off communism, or capitalism, were over. It seemed to many at the time that Burma might benefit from the acclaimed international resolve to put concern for human rights and democratic government at the forefront of foreign policy, and create a world where dictators could find no home. Even in ASEAN In the case of East Timor both Thailand and Malaysia sent troops to join the UN peace-keeping mission there. But that is only a dream.

Soon this New World Order was torn apart, the failure of interventions in Somalia, Rwanda, Angola, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Chechnya. the "non-interference", which for so long held off effective intervention to prevent human rights violations, is no longer sacred. However, it soon gave rise to a new East/West divide and an ideological battle over human rights versus "Asian values". Burma profited by this divide, seeking to ally itself with Asian powers which could, it hoped, defend the country from Western "neo-imperialist tendencies".

Constructive Engagement has come to be a pseudonym for an "unethical" foreign policy, and sanctions its "ethical" opposite. However, this polarization has allowed sanctioning governments to get away with policies which are morally satisfying, but can be a fig leaf to cover a lack of real political will to bring about the desired changes. It also allows "engaging" countries to avoid any concerted and detailed monitoring to ensure that they do indeed get something constructive out of their engagement with pariah states. While Western governments grappled to find a Burma policy, there was a burgeoning of grassroots advocacy on Burma – from the work of the exiled Burmese community at the United Nations and other international forums, to the proliferation of local campaign groups calling for boycotts of companies working in Burma.

But the debate on how to bring about change has become deeply polarized up to this day however this polarization is perhaps beginning to break down, as it surely must if there is to be internal reconciliation. If there is one thing that the international community can do for Burma now it is to show that concern for the human rights of the people of Burma, that is their health, education, development, right to life and other civil and political rights, is more important than rhetoric, or pride. Progress and reform in all aspects has long been an imperative – not a dream as the cyclone Nargis has demonstrated. At least it drives home to the Burmese men in uniforms that the international community really cares for the people of Burma and not the gun tooting generals.

Q. What do you think of the United Nations role in Burma?

With the veto of a UNSC resolution on Burma by China and Russia and the Junta’s reduced responsiveness to the UN I think the UN has become just a forum for debate as it has been in the past, and a vehicle for the international community to exert rhetorical pressure on the generals.

Initially as a long-standing member and the fatherland of former UN Secretary General U Thant, Burma places the United Nations at the center of its diplomacy. During the years that General Khin Nyunt managed Burma’s diplomatic relations, UN activity in Burma expanded substantially. UN agencies were allowed to set up missions in the country and establish programs for various forms of welfare and humanitarian assistance.

From time to time, the Secretary General’s representative was received to facilitate communication between the Junta and political opposition groups. The UN Human Rights Rapporteur was allowed, off and on, to visit the country and report extensively on humanitarian conditions. Annual meetings of the UN General Assembly have traditionally served as a forum to chronicle and inveigh against the regime’s record of repression and failure to move forward with political transition. Calculating that the Junta’s was particularly sensitive about its image in the UN, Burmese exile groups and their supporters have placed great hope in the UN as a means of forcing change, particularly when the Security Council agreed in 2006 to put Burma on its agenda. But after Khin Nyunt’s purge, the UN’s role as an engine for change in Burma appears substantially less promising.

As a practical matter, the UN cannot become a central force in bringing about change in Burma, unless the Burmese government seeks and accepts its assistance. But when genuine transition begins in Burma, the UN may become a more important source of advice and support, not only through its assistance agencies, but also through the ability of the Secretary General to facilitate mediation of internal disputes. Because of historical Burmese respect for UN neutrality, the UN might ultimately be the most acceptable external interlocutor for all sides in an internal dispute, if mediation is sought.

Q. What is your perspective on the UN now that Gambari has failed in his attempt?

As a long-standing member and the fatherland of former UN Secretary General U Thant, Burma places the United Nations at the center of its diplomacy. During the years that General Khin Nyunt managed Burma’s diplomatic relations, UN activity in Burma expanded substantially. UN agencies were allowed to set up missions in the country and establish programs for various forms of welfare and humanitarian assistance. From time to time, the Secretary General’s representative was received to facilitate communication between the Junta and political opposition groups. The UN Human Rights Rapporteur was allowed, off and on, to visit the country and report extensively on humanitarian conditions.

Annual meetings of the UN General Assembly have traditionally served as a forum to chronicle and inveigh against the Junta’s record of repression and failure to move forward with political transition. Calculating that the generals were very sensitive about its image in the UN, Burmese exile groups and their supporters have placed great hope in the UN as a means of forcing change, particularly when the Security Council agreed in 2006 to put Burma on its agenda. With the veto of a UNSC resolution on Burma by China and Russia and the Junta’s reduced responsiveness to the UN since Khin Nyunt’s purge, the UN’s role as an engine for change in Burma appears substantially less promising.

As a practical matter, the UN cannot become a central force in bringing about change in Burma It can only be a forum for debate and a vehicle for the international community to exert rhetorical pressure on the generals. But if and when genuine transition begins in Burma, the UN may become a more important source of advice and support, not only through its assistance agencies, but also through the abilityof the Secretary General to facilitate mediation of internal disputes. Because of historical Burmese respect for UN neutrality, the UN might ultimately be the most acceptable external interlocutor for all sides in an internal dispute, if mediation is sought.

Q. What do you think of the U.S. Goals in Burma?

I strongly view that the US wants stability in Southeast Asia, not instability. The U.S. wants to see ASEAN integration and cooperation strengthened. The Bush administration has actually put money behind this principle and helped with the ASEAN secretariat, held meetings with the ASEAN leaders that participate in APEC, agreed upon the enhanced ASEAN partnership last year to strengthen U.S. cooperation with ASEAN as a whole, and helped ASEAN work together because, for strategic and trade response, a strong and consolidated ASEAN is in the U S interest.

At the same time, however, the U.S. has very clear interests in preventing threats to security, broadly defined, in this region. Burma represents some significant threats to peace and stability in Southeast Asia. The Burmese Junta’s Four Cuts strategy has led to a range of problems that are destabilizing. The very dangerous combination of trafficking in persons, drug trafficking, HIV/AIDS and other easily transmitted diseases, all combined present enormous challenges for Thailand, India and China. Additionally, Burma’s involvement in the arms trade is problematic. Burma’s relationship with North Korea, which receives relatively little press, is extremely problematic. All of these taken together represent a serious security threat that warrants the attention of the U S. Of course the U.S. seeks and wants to see national reconciliation and a restoration of democracy in Burma. These objectives area almost the same as all of the neighbors of Burma

Q. What is your perspective on the US Policy?

Under the current circumstances, U.S. policy is focused appropriately on pressuring the Junta to return Burma to civilian democratic government. The fact that Burma is considered to be of little to no strategic interest to the United States, especially when compared to the many more urgent concerns the U.S. faces abroad, has allowedthe development of multiple layers of U.S. sanctions inhibiting relations with Burma as a means of pressure.

As governors of the major international banks, the U.S. and its partners have managed to prohibit the World Bank, IMF, and Asian Development Bank from undertaking any significant programs in Burma. Since various U.S. attempts to seek broader international sanctions through the UN, the EU, and ASEAN have not succeeded over the years, it now appears that most U.S. sanctions against Burma are destined to remain largely bilateral. With the possibility of some degree of generational evolution in Burma’s military leadership growing increasingly likely, this might be an opportune moment for U.S. policymakers to undertake a fundamental review of the assumptions underlying the policy that has been in place for nearly two decades and re-evaluate it in the context of today’s international environment and evolving U.S. interests. Among other things, such a review should encompass a number of fundamental issues. First is the question of U.S. strategic interests in the Southeast Asia region, particularly in light of the rapid economic development in China and India that will inevitably affect power balances in the region, as well as the way those two countries deal with regional partners.

My thinking is that does the United States perhaps have a greater strategic interest in Burma than has commonly been assumed the notion that total isolation is the most appropriate? If so, has this produced positive results in Burma? Finally, policymakers should take a hard look at how the US have been interacting with regional and international partners in seeking to maximize pressure. While such a review might conclude that current U.S. policy toward Burma remains well founded and most appropriate to the current situation, it would at least have the beneficial effect of drawing attention to the gradual subterranean changes that are always underway in any situation, no matter how glacial it appears on the surface. It would also focus attention on what modifications and adjustments in U.S. policy would be effective and appropriate in response to changes in Burma, and it might shed light on new international strategies for bringing pressure to bear more effectively on the Junta.

It is inconceivable that the United States would not want to play a central and constructive role in supporting transition in Burma, once it begins. Yet some of the constraints built into current U.S. policy will make it difficult for the U.S. to contribute quickly and constructively to potentially positive developments in Burma, let alone to facilitate gradual changes in Burma that would encourage transition and build the foundations for stable democracy. For example, strict prohibitions on private business activity and on economic assistance, both bilaterally and through IFIs, may serve to assure that the U.S. is not contributing to the financial gain of the dictatorial Junta. However, they also have the effect of prohibiting some kinds of economic activity that could encourage economic reform and the development of Burma’s free market sector, if carefully targeted. The United States should therefore consider positioning itself better to play a leading role in facilitating the development of democratic institutions during a process of staged transition, which is the course that Burma is most likely to take before returning to full democracy.

Finally, the U.S. sanctions regime and its confrontational style with Burma’s military leadership, no matter how well justified, have relegated the United States to a backseat position in the effort to persuade the Burmese men in uniforms to proceed with transition. It is simply a fact of life that Burma’s Asian neighbours will remain its key interlocutors and points of contact until the appropriate time comes for the United States to ease its sanctions and adjust its demeanor. Therefore, the U.S. should consider whether it might be more productive to work in partnership with Burma’s neighbours to ease the generals into reform and transition, rather than simply exhorting their governments to copy U.S policy. This would only require a change in style and not in the fundamentals of U.S. policy toward Burma, and might help to uncover new possibilities for encouraging the process of change inside Burma.

For example, during this period when transition is still prospective, the United States might consider spearheading a wide-ranging effort to develop coordinated international plans to offer Burma assistance with economic and political development at specified points in the future. The OECD principles for assistance to fragile state (appended to this study) represent a comprehensive starting point and roadmap for such an effort. Burma and its specific conditions would provide the ideal case study for testing the viability of these principles. This kind of effort might even make it possible to involve Burmese experts in articulating some of the tasks and proposed assistance programs. But whatever policy adjustments the new US administration might decide to make in the future, however, U.S. policy must remain firmly fixed on the objective of achieving federal democratic government in Burma and therefore on unfailing support for the country’s democratic and ethnic forces.

When the time comes for real transition, Burma will need a steady point of reference to articulate and demarcate the route to democracy. Although it will certainly be a healthy sign if many new democratic voices emerge, it will be a long time before any of them can attain the national stature and democratic vision of the NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

(Ed Note. Prof. Win has given special lectures at the Simon Fraser University of Vancouver on 1st Nov, at the University of Winnipeg Women’s club on the 6th Nov. in Manitoba. At 9 rue Courat, Paris 75020 on 13th Nov and at the Burmese Buddhist Monastery in London, UK on the 22nd Nov.)

(To be continued tomorrow)

- Asian Tribune -

Also Read:
Part 1 - Lectures of Prof. Win : In Response to Burma Digest

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